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The Last of Us – when games meet video

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Photo: Daniel Lincoln

Photo of Sam Griffin
by Sam Griffin

The HBO Original production of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is solidifying the foundations of modern expectations for games video crossovers. With the games market increasingly saturated and seemingly dominated by a handful of games, companies that are acting on the cross-entertainment opportunity have a better chance of nurturing fandom of their IP and weather the current macroeconomic dynamics.

With an established IP, adaptations have an advantage as audiences are already invested in the characters and the story associated with a title. One of the show’s blazing strengths has been the effort taken by Sony Pictures Television to maintain the true essence of the game’s original content that fans fell in love with. As a result, the core character-driven storyline shines through, and it actively becomes an incredibly compelling and emotional viewing experience – much like the game. 

Functional formatting matters

In the short(er)-form era, the TV show format is seeing growing engagement across platforms. Unlike a movie, a TV show episode is much more feasible to view on a commute, for example. It offers greater ability for games IP holders to generate incremental revenues and brand engagement – particularly important for story-driven games that do not offer in-game purchasing. Further, the format encourages audiences to engage with the show in the same chronological chapter-like order as the original game's content – and for those yet to play the title it provides a sense of familiarity if they decide to purchase the game post-watch. 

The net result of this effort thus far has been a  significant growth in game sales of the PlayStation exclusive (The Last of Us: Part 1 is now at number 20 on the charts with an increase of 238% week-on-week and The Last of Us Remastered up 322% week-on-week). With raving reviews, a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the “largest second week audience growth for an HBO Original drama series in the history of the network”, the show is an undeniable hit for Sony and HBO. This is an important win for both companies. HBO looks to drive retention through its original content and Sony pushes to draw new audiences into its rich games category through cross-entertainment investments. In doing so, Sony is acting on dynamics which MIDiA identified would be crucial to take on board if it is to retain market leadership: PlayStation competes against Xbox’s cross-platform tactics, which strategically weakens the central foundations of PlayStation’s walled garden. That is hard to compete against. On the other hand, Sony, across its entertainment sector groups (Music, Pictures, and Interactive Entertainment) has one of the most impressive cross-entertainment catalogues on Earth. As we said many times over the years: Xbox’s future is cross-platform, Sony’s future is cross-entertainment. We are now starting to see this fully transpire in the market.

As with Arcane (Netflix, 2021), the initial userbase increase for The Last of Us will plateau over the next six to twelve months. Yet, Sony’s cross-entertainment pursuits are bringing the PlayStation exclusive game to PC on March 3rd and the show will be its hype-man. 25% of binge-viewers also play games on a computer every month (MIDiA Research Consumer survey Q3 2022). The release is set to align with the climax of the show’s first season and inject further conversion opportunities for viewers of the series who also play games on their computers. This is how video and games should be creating mutually beneficial synergies, instead of competing against each other for consumers attention and spend.

This is by no means the first games videos crossover that we have seen in the recent past (Halo (2022, Paramount+), Arcane (2021, Netflix), and The Witcher (2019, Netflix), but it has set a new standard for future games video content. Both in terms of format, trusting in a games storyline, and in terms of creating commercial synergies. For games companies looking to find revenue-generating channels outside of their games, video will become a cornerstone of advancement when done right.

The long-lasting impact of a TV show curated to activate a game’s established fanbase can instil new interest in a game for video audiences and be a value-added for the original games’ community. Additionally, with the increase in the number of TV shows, and the binge-watching behaviours of games aficionados, there is real potential for other games companies to follow suit in an attempt to draw video spenders into the games ecosystem and vice-versa.

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